Melbourne, Jan 19: Top-ranked Roger Federer had a stunningly tough fight for survival against Janko Tipsarevic before rallying for a 6-7 (5), 7-6 (1), 5-7, 6-1, 10-8 victory at the Australian Open on Saturday.
Tipsarevic, ranked 49th and having never reached a singles final, played the match of his life and gave Federer everything he could handle with the packed crowd screaming on every point. Federer, who is seeking his third straight title here and 13th Grand Slam crown, needed every one of his personal-best 39 aces to fend off the third-round challenge from the 2001 boys champion at Melbourne Park in 4 hours and 27 minutes.
"What a great battle. Fair play, he's a nice guy -- pity somebody has to win, wish we could have draws sometimes too," Federer said in a courtside interview.
"This is where you get grey hair early in life. Pity for him, but what a great victory for me."
Having looked supremely confident in his opening two matches, Federer was expected to breeze past Tipsarevic, who had won only two matches in three visits to the Australian Open until this year.
Federer looked a shadow of the dominant player who has reached 10 successive grand-slam finals and won three of the last four Australian Opens.
It looked like business as usual when the Swiss broke to lead 5-3 in the first set but Tipsarevic broke back and won the tiebreak 7-5 after Federer chose not to hit an easy volley that landed in.
The second set also went to a tiebreak but Federer took it 7-1 to level before forcing two set points in the 10th game of the third.
But, as he did throughout the match, Tipsarevic dug deep on the big points, saving both and stunning the top seed by breaking to take the set 7-5.
Federer had been upset by Tipsarevic's numerous Hawk-Eye challenges in the first three sets but shrugged off his worries by racing through the fourth.
Tipsarevic refused to lie down, however, and stayed on serve until 7-7 in the decider when a backhand pass from Federer forced an error.
The Swiss squandered one match point but an unreturnable serve sealed victory and kept alive his hopes of a third consecutive Australian Open title.